5 Unexpected Ways Your Diet Is Aging You

Skipping seafood, sipping sugary soda and other mealtime mistakes that shave years off your life.

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Your diet can serious help—or hurt—your health, depending on what you eat. A diet rich in trans and saturated fats can up your stroke risk, and eating too much added sugar could increase your risk of death from heart disease, whether you’re overweight or not.

A lesser-known but equally important effect of a poor diet: aging. That’s right, your diet could make you feel (and look) older than you actually are.

Before you overhaul your eating habits, take the RealAge Test, which measures the age of your body based on family history and lifestyle factors, like your diet. You’ll get personalized tips for lowering your RealAge, like increasing your daily activity and avoiding diet mistakes that could age you prematurely.  

Ready to switch up your dining routine?

Medically reviewed in November 2018.

You don’t drink enough water

2 / 6 You don’t drink enough water

The “right” amount of water varies from person-to-person, depending on activity level, temperature, humidity, and medical conditions, but most US adults should aim for nine to thirteen glasses a day, according to the Institute of Medicine. If you skimp on your intake, you risk dehydration, which can cause dizziness, irritability and fatigue.

Dehydration also ages the look of your skin—it temporarily loses its elasticity, something we often see in older adults. While an extra glass of water won’t stave off wrinkles, it may increase skin density and thickness. 

If you want to up your water intake, start with these suggestions:

  • Splurge on a cute water bottle.
  • Infuse your H2O with fresh fruit.
  • Set alarms to remind yourself to sip.
  • When you're watching TV, hydrate during commercial breaks.

Keep in mind: For some people, drinking too much can be dangerous. Speak with your doctor before sipping, especially if you have conditions like heart failure and kidney disease.

You eat the wrong kinds of fats

3 / 6 You eat the wrong kinds of fats

Our bodies need some fat to function properly, but it’s important to consume the right kinds. Trans and saturated fats increase bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, which can up your risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death among both American men and women. High cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup that narrows your arteries, increasing the likelihood of forming blood clots that can cause heart attack, stroke and premature death.

So what fats should you eat? Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in foods like salmon, nuts and avocado, are part of a healthy diet and may help lower bad cholesterol.

Plus, an October 2018 study published in the BMJ suggests consumption of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in fish like sardines, salmon and tuna, is linked to healthy aging. During the 22-year follow up period, those with the highest levels of 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid—tested using blood samples at baseline, 6 and 13 years—had a lower risk of unhealthy aging, characterized by major chronic diseases and poor physical and mental function.

If butter, lard and red meats are part of your daily diet, start switching them out for olive and canola oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and salmon. However, there’s no need to avoid all fats. Add some healthy ones into your diet in moderation.

Your diet is over processed

4 / 6 Your diet is over processed

Processed meats are convenient and tasty, but they may shave years off your life. Breakfast favorites, like bacon and sausage, may even be responsible for an increased risk of death. These meats tend to be high in saturated fats, too much of which can increase cholesterol levels and with that, your heart disease and stroke risks.

Processed meats—products treated for preservation or flavor—may be potentially cancer causing, according to the World Health Organization. An October 2018 analysis of 15 studies published in International Journal of Cancer suggests regular consumption of processed meats was linked to a 9 percent greater risk of breast cancer, compared to women who ate the least.

Highly processed junk food and refined carbs may be stealing your youth, too. Refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta, are associated with increased rates of heart disease, and one study suggests they may present a bigger risk for heart attack than saturated fats. Instead, build your meals with fresh produce, whole grains and plant-based proteins, like beans.

You load up on sugar

5 / 6 You load up on sugar

Too much added sugar can discolor your teeth and wrinkle your skin. Glycation, or the binding of sugar to proteins, alters your body’s production and maintenance of collagen, the protein that keeps your skin looking young. As you age, collagen production slows, causing wrinkles, but excess sugar may age skin prematurely.

There's more. No single food or food group is responsible for weight gain, but too many high-calorie sweets may lead to extra fat around your mid-section. Regardless of overall weight, excess stomach fat ups your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes—both of which may steal years from your life.

Instead of reaching for the doughnut, satiate a sweet tooth with a cup of mixed berries, or savor an ounce of dark chocolate.

You spend too much time at happy hour

6 / 6 You spend too much time at happy hour

For years, studies suggested moderate alcohol consumption, defined as one drink a day for women and two for men, may decrease risk of heart disease and boost longevity. Now emerging research is questioning these benefits. What we do know is that too many daily cocktails can shorten your life.

Excess drinking can increase the risk of cancer, liver damage and high blood pressure. Let's not forget the calorie content of your favorite wines, beers and spirits; your daily happy hour habits may be responsible for weight gain. A few extra pounds may seem innocent enough, but overweight and obese individuals are at a higher risk for diabetes and heart disease.

If you choose to sip, do it responsibly, but there is no need to add a daily drink to your diet.

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